Obama: U.S. opioid epidemic as great a threat as terrorism

President Obama said Tuesday that America's addiction to painkillers is as great a threat as terrorism.

Here's why: 78 people die each day from overdoses of opioids, prescription drugs and heroin. No place is immune.

Six minutes. That's the goal in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Six minutes for EMTs to get a call about an opioid overdose, and get the victim breathing again.

Jocelyn Benvie revived her 22-year-old friend and called 911 after she took heroin and fell unconscious.

"It's just really scary when you see your friend not breathing with purple lips, and you don't know what you can do to help," Benvie said.

Plymouth, population 56,000, is nick-named "America's hometown." Twenty-five people there died from heroin overdoses last year.

Across the country, opioid deaths -- whether caused by pain pills or heroin -- jumped 372 percent from 2000 to 2014.

That's why President Obama told a heroin summit in Atlanta that the government is distributing $11 million to states for the overdose reversal drug often called Narcan.

In cities like Plymouth, 911 calls for overdoses are up 500 percent in two years. On weekends, it's as many as four a day.

"The mean age of overdoses is dropping into the low 20's. We've had opioid overdoses as low as 14 years old," said EMT Jeff Jacobsen.

Davis Owen, a former high school class president, was 20 when he died from a heroin overdose.

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Davis Owen

Missy Owen

"All these kids are dying they're no different than Davis. They're high achievers. They're fun. They're beautiful kids from exceptional families. And they're dropping like flies," his mother said.

In all, the president proposed an additional $1.1 billion to combat this addiction -- triple the current funding. But the issue is still, in the president's words, "grossly under-resourced."

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.